Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered a State of the State address Monday that touched on national political themes, vowing to fight the “misdirected” anger at immigrants, the “eruption” of hate crimes and divisiveness created by the Trump-Clinton presidential campaign.
Cuomo cast New York policies as an alternative to President-elect Donald Trump, though never mentioning him by name. The Democratic governor said middle-class anger is high because people feel left behind by automation and the high-tech economy. But he said that shouldn’t result in “pointing a finger” at immigrants and “dismantling our health care” system. He talked of the need to “calm the waters.”
“We all heard the roar on Election Day, and we must respond,” Cuomo said. “The nation once again looks to New York to find the way up. . . . We will hold the torch high to light the way.”
The 59-year-old governor delivered his speech from the 64th floor of One World Trade Center, a spot he said he chose because it was not only the site of the “greatest cowardice, the greatest hatred,” but also of the “greatest response” of people pulling together regardless of color, creed or ethnicity. He criticized a “recent and powerful belief that American openness and diversity is in conflict with” protecting middle-class jobs and values.
“That belief is both misguided and dangerous,” said Cuomo, who some consider a potential presidential candidate.
It was the first of six “regional” State of the State addresses Cuomo said he’ll give this year in a break with tradition. But critics and some legislators said he is taking the show on the road to avoid the State Capitol, where tensions with lawmakers are high and some talked about boycotting the annual address.
Instead of speaking in Albany to 2,000 or so lawmakers and guests, Cuomo spoke to a smaller gathering Monday — about 220 chairs were set up for nonstaff and nonmedia attendees Monday. Most were filled by elected officials and political activists.
Republican state chairman Ed Cox said Cuomo’s by “invite-only” tour is being carried out in “tightly controlled environments” as a way for the Democrat to “avoid confrontation with the legislature and district from his failures.” Cox has been especially critical of the Cuomo administration’s economic-development projects — some of which are now the subject of a federal investigation of key Cuomo allies and donors.
Normally a time to outline a governor’s proposals, Cuomo’s speech Monday lightly touched on the 2017 initiatives that his administration had rolled out a few days ahead of the address: Creating a path to a tuition-free college education for low- and moderate-income families, closing the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, expanding child care tax credits, raising the age of criminal prosecution from 16 to 18, and upgrading New York City airports and the subway system.
He also proposed legalizing “ride-sharing” services such as Uber and Lyft throughout the state, boosting spending on after-school programs in high-needs areas and enacting a “social justice” agenda that would overhaul bail requirements, expand naturalization services for immigrants and create a Hate Crimes Task Force and an Interfaith Advisory Council (led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan) to promote “understanding and tolerance of all religions and cultures.”
But many details will have to await Cuomo’s budget presentation to see how he actually wants to achieve his goals. For example, he promised Monday to boost spending on elementary and secondary schools to an “all-time high” but didn’t give a spending figure or percentage increase.
None of the legislative leaders will attend any of the speeches, a sign of how relations between the executive and legislative branches have soured. Many legislators are chafing after six years of Cuomo largely controlling the agenda in Albany. It got worse after what they said was Cuomo interfering in a commission that blocked what would have been legislators’ first pay hike since 1999.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) issued a statement urging Cuomo to include a new job-creating plan and reduce environmental and other regulations on businesses.
-With Michael Gormley and Emily Ngo